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Monday, October 15, 2007

Screen Recording: Professional Screencasting Gets A Better Camera - Camtasia Studio 5 In-Depth Review

Screen recording software doesn't come much better than Camtasia Studio, and version 5.0 of this comprehensive and full-featured screencasting tool has just upped the game yet again. Here's why:

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There are no shortage of options available if you are looking to make a screencast - a movie recording of your desktop or browser-based applications - but you won't find one that matches the feature-set of Camtasia Studio.

Now for some people, that won't be a problem. If you're looking to create a quick five minute demo of something on-screen to share with a friend, there are plenty of free or cheap options available to you, including Jing Project, which is another Techsmith product, reviewed here back in July.

However, if you want an all-in-one solution that will let you record, edit, add titles and interactivity, create a soundtrack and optimize your resultant video for web delivery, Camtasia Studio is as good as it gets.

Version 5.0 adds some very welcome features to the already well-stocked selection previously on offer. Among my favorites are:

  • SmartFocus, which will automatically pan and zoom your videos for maximum legibility, even if you change from a very high-resolution format to much smaller dimensions
  • Improved editing functionality that allows for high precision cuts, something that wasn't previously possible in Camtasia Studio
  • Easy-to-use project settings that make it really easy to create videos just right for iPod video, YouTube and blogs
  • Screencast.com integration, making it really easy to get your video uploaded and embedded into your blog in a matter of seconds

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. If I sound excited about this, it's because I am.

 

Camtasia Studio Overview

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Camtasia Studio 5 gives you a highly adaptable all-in-one solution for creating audio-video screencasts that you can write to CD or DVD, share over the web, and even play on a video-enabled iPod.

When you first boot the program you have the option of importing media, recording your screen, recording video from your webcam, recording audio narration, or opening an existing file. In this sense you can begin your screencast recording with an audio script, and edit the video to match, or start with video and add your narration later as required.

Whichever way you decide to go, Camtasia presents you with a simple timeline whereby you can arrange and trim your audio and video clips, add transitions, titling, "call outs" - on-screen graphical pointers and annotations - and orchestrate zooming and panning in, out and around your video recording to make it as easy as possible to see all of the details, even at smaller sizes.

Furthermore, Camtasia adds interactive capabilities, so that you can create movies that include quizzes, start and stop to point out features or ask questions, and so on, making the resulting Flash media files an excellent way to create video training. E-learning specialists will be pleased to hear that content created with Camtasia Studio is also SCORM compliant.

Add to that a PowerPoint plugin that allows you to use your presentations as the basis of your movies, captioning / subtitling capabilities, some fantastic output options, or the ability to create effective navigation menus for CDs and you have a well-rounded set of tools for putting together learning packages, training CDs, video demonstrations, and great looking presentations.



Streamlined Interface

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Techsmith has really gone to town on version 5.0 of Camtasia Studio, and the latest additions to the tool will likely be enough to entice existing users to go for an upgrade, while bringing newcomers into a "professional level" screencasting environment.

For starters the whole interface feels a lot simpler, less crowded and easy to use than previous versions. From the slick looking opening dialog that you select your recording mode from, to the very cool new crosshairs feature for choosing a region of the screen to record, everything has been made as simple and intuitive as possible.




Improved Recording Features

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As in previous versions of the Camtasia Studio, when I am set to make a recording I can hover my cursor over windows, and parts of an application, such as the address bar of a browser, and Camtasia will automatically suggest a recording area for me.

Added to this I can use crosshairs to pick out an exact part of the screen, setting my own custom dimensions. This is great, in that it gives me a lot of freedom to set up my recording area just as l wish. The only downside to doing this is that you can end up with video recordings having unusual aspect ratios, which makes them very difficult to share on websites such as YouTube without seriously distorting the image.

Thankfully Techsmith has thought this one out and once the recording toolbar opens you are given the option of selecting from a good range of preset video sizes, all of which conform to multiples of popular embeddable video players dimensions.

This is great news for anyone that wants to create video that fits the screen, or nicely translates to an iPod or YouTube video player without distortion or letterboxing.

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A very welcome addition to the recording features is that of the new "snap-to-app" functionality. If you check the appropriate box on the requisite toolbar, your recording area will automatically resize and move if you make changes to your application window. Previously, once I started recording, the recording area was fixed, so if I moved my application window, it would start to disappear from the frame.

Even cooler is that if I combine the "snap-to-app" functionality with the preset dimensions, my application window will automatically resize to fit within the video frame.

The best way to get good results when resizing video is to make sure that you do it in multiples of original settings, for example, a video of 320 x 240 pixels scales well to 480x360 (1.5 x) or 640x480 (2x). Camtasia Studio makes such resizing work a breeze.

Two additional features have also had a strong impact on me. For one, there is an option to have the cursor reset its position to the place you left it in your last recording. For the purpose of continuity, this is a priceless addition. In addition, Camtasia Studio will make sure that any pop-up dialog box that opens up in your application will be automatically centered within your recording area. Anyone that has ever had to stop a screencast recording, or drag a new window into the recording area when it opens somewhere else on-screen, will be thankful for this.

From these very additions I can see how Techsmith has spent a lot of time both talking and listening to screencasters as well as creating their own screencasts to find out what was really needed. Once you start seeign the new additions it becomes self-evident how they did a great job on this upgrade as these are the kind of features that really take the pain out of putting great-looking demos together.



Project Settings

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Camtasia Studio holds my hand all along the way, and has a great series of integrated pointers, tips and wizards that make the process as simple as possible.

As soon as I finish my first screen recording I am presented with a "Project Settings" dialog. From there I can choose a template for my project, selecting from web, CD, blog, iPod, Quicktime, .wmv or various other settings, including custom parameters of my own devising.

I also have the option of a) either manually setting the video dimensions, b) changing them, c) applying SmartFocus - another new feature - or d) simply changing the dimensions without SmartFocus should I wish to do my own zooming and panning.



SmartFocus

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The crowning glory of Camtasia Studio 5 is SmartFocus, a new feature that will automate the zooming and panning process that Camtasia Studio does so well. I have yet to find another application that offers this simple zoom and pan functionality, let alone one that does it automatically.

In short, zoom-and-pan is a feature that allows you to make the most of smaller recording areas and focus your viewers attention by zooming the on-screen action, and moving it as appropriate. This allows you, for instance, to create videos with relatively small dimensions, like those of YouTube, while retaining maximum visibility and legibility of on-screen visuals and text.

SmartFocus takes this to a new level, and analyzes your recording, applying zoom-ins, zoom-outs and camera panning as required by the dimensions of your video. Furthermore, if you resize your video dimensions, which is now possible, SmartFocus will adapt accordingly.

In my work as a professional screencaster I spend a significant amount of time manually setting zooms and pans both in Camtasia, and in my other editing software, and this can quickly become a laborious task if you are working on a longer video, or regularly creating screencasts.

The good news is that SmartFocus works a charm. I put it through the motions in a number of tests, hoping to catch it out, and it kept up with my on-screen actions, creating appropriate zooms and pans about 90% of the time.

What's nice is that even with SmartFocus activated, I can adjust the placement of the zooms created, as well as finer details, and can also add my own should I feel that any were missed out in the automation process.

On behalf of screencasters the world over, I want to give the Techsmith people a big round of applause for this feature.



(Live) Annotation

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The live annotation tools in Camtasia Studio 5 are also very cool - I can draw shapes, drag and drop highlighting, boxes, lines, arrows, and circles and even draw freehand as I record. I can also pause the movie, add these elements in and then set it rolling again. There's even an undo feature on the annotation palette which sits right below the video, so not only can I quickly switch tools, but I can also get rid of any mistakes very easily.

annotation_toolbar.jpg

Furthermore there are tools for selecting a particular application or window automatically, surrounding it with a red rectangle, which is another nice way of pointing something out on-screen. The same effect can also be applied manually. It's also possible for me to add in my own watermark or a system stamp to be overlaid onto my video. Watermarking is a great way of letting your video content spread virally over the web, while still bringing back traffic to your own website.

That's before you go into the 3D call-outs, thought-bubbles and other layouts that can be quickly added to the video as you go. Just hit pause and you have a whole lot of annotation tools at your disposal, and you can activate or deactivate their respective palettes as you see fit to keep your screen clutter-free.

In short this is the most fully-featured set of recording and annotation tools available anywhere, and it's unlikely that you will ever being to make use of the huge range of options available.



Live PowerPoint Recording

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Even if you don't see yourself using Camtasia Studio for desktop demonstrations, it has some very nice features for recording your PowerPoint presentations, whether you want to do that live or from the comfort of your desk. Camtasia adds a simple toolbar to your PowerPoint interface, and from there you can record your narration as you go through slides, builds and animations.

Furthermore, if you want to add more of a personal touch, you can also record yourself from your webcam, and Camtasia will automatically sync it up to the slideshow as it unfolds. This alone could be very useful for trainers and educators who want to distribute their live presentations to trainees and students after the event, or as a distance learning solution. The resulting video can be played either picture-in-picture or side-by-side with your presentation, which is very cool.

The new Camtasia toolbar inside PowerPoint is very self-explanatory, with icons for recording, mic settings, webcam, picture-in-picture and so on. As such, even if you don't ever get stuck into the more complex capabilities of Camtasia, you can get up and running with it pretty quickly via PowerPoint, and export the results in a variety of formats.



Improved Editing and Sound

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One of the weaker points of Camtasia Studio is its editing setup, so it was nice to see that this has been somewhat improved in the latest version. Certainly Camtasia editing facility isn't going to keep up with more popular pro video editing tools, and to some extent I still prefer other budget solutions such as iMovie, but it has definitely improved.

For one, the timeline now uses up to 30 frames per second, and allows you to make frame accurate cuts, which is great news for people that might have found previous versions less precise in their ability to trim footage. Furthermore, it's possible to join, trim, split and even adjust the speed of a clip - all of which can be very handy.

Audio has also been improved, as with the addition of a new and very useful audio setting that will even out volume levels while attempting to reduce background noise. Both features are indeed very useful as many people will be recording their narration in less than ideal (often too noisy) studio conditions.



Media Input and Output Formats

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Getting your movies out of Camtasia is very simple, whether you use the nice range of presets or go for a more customized approach. You can output your files to any of the following formats (which pretty much cover the gamut):

This is an impressive range, and means that you are pretty much covered across most bases. It also means that if you want to export to another application for any further video post-production work, you're going to be able to do so on Windows, Mac and possibly on Linux too, as the broad range of video formats supported covers all pro and amateur video production grounds.

What I don't understand, however, is why Camtasia can output to this great range of formats, but will not accept only a fraction of those video formats as source media files.

Sure, I can bring in AVI, WMV, CAMREC and MPEG video, but for some reason I can't yet import in my own Quicktime movies. For me, as someone who already uses Camtasia as part of my Mac-based production workflow, it would indeed be very useful to be able to import my own Quicktime clips. But for now, I can only hope for this feature to make it to the forthcoming Mac version of Camtasia.

Minor gripes aside, there is a lot to be happy about.

If all of this talk of media types bores or baffles you, there are some great presets for CD, blog, iPod, web delivery and so on. You can even preview the results before deciding and encoding the entire movie, which is a very useful feature and one that a lot of video-based applications should consider adopting.

If you're trying to decide on the right balance of quality and compression, which is always wise if you are going to deliver video on the web, the ability to test compression settings before committing to the rendering of the whole file is an absolute godsend. Fellow web videographers will know what I mean here - we are talking about the possibility of saving a whole lot of wasted time in the post production process.

Total beginners will also be pleased to hear that throughout Camtasia, a very simple, helpful wizard will guide you through using any of the core features.



ExpressShow

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I should also give a quick mention to the new ExpressShow feature, which is essentially a SWF-based Flash template for exporting your files with.

This isn't well suited to full video, or longer presentations, but if you are putting out content of under 15 minutes, and are primarily using screen recordings, this is a nice new simple feature.

Exporting with ExpressShow gives you a tidy, single SWF file that can feature your company logo, a very nice looking text caption beneath the video, and a customized "about" box for more information, as well as an integrated table of contents. The resulting player looks awesome, and is a great way of creating branded, slick screencasts for your blog or website.

The only downside here is that the format is not well suited to longer or motion-intensive video, so you need to bear that in mind when deciding if this is the best option for you.



Screencast.com and FTP Integration

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Another very useful addition is the built-in integration with the Techsmith Screencast.com service, where you can host and share your high quality videos for quite reasonable monthly or yearly rates.

You can get a 60 day trial of the service at the moment, and after that prices range from $69.50 to $249.50 a year, as follows:

screencastdotcom_prices.jpg

If you have your own hosting however, the new built in FTP functionality means that you can get your screencast uploaded to your own server right from Camtasia, which is a very welcome addition, cutting one more thing out of your workflow.



Excellent Tutorials

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Techsmith, I'm pleased to say, practices what it preaches and has an absolutely stunning set of Camtasia screencast tutorials on their company website. In addition, to the good series of screencasts covering Camtasia Studio 4, there are now some new great introductory tutorials for version 5.0 as well.

I particularly like the way that these tutorials can be accessed right from the very first dialog box presented when you launch Camtasia. This does make for a truly seamless introduction to the tool, and one that places just-in-time training right where you need it most. Other developers could learn a lot from this approach.

The tutorials themselves are very comprehensive, well-made and boast crystal clear visuals even at relatively large dimensions.

In short, this is a great example of the kind of support that should be standard by now - showing customers how to do something rather than expecting them to wade through a FAQ or the index of your endless text-based documentation.



System Requirements

For the time being at least, Camtasia Studio 5 is a Windows only application, although there is talk of a Mac version being on the way. I'd like that to be true. For now, here are the specs:



Authoring

  • Microsoft Windows XP or Windows Vista
  • Microsoft DirectX 9 or later version
  • 1.0 GHz processor minimum ~ Recommended: 2.5 GHz (for PowerPoint and camera recordings.)
  • 500 MB RAM minimum ~ Recommended: 1.0 GB
  • 60 MB of hard-disk space for program installation
  • Camtasia Studio Add-in for PowerPoint requires PowerPoint 2000, 2002, 2003, or 2007
  • Production to the Apple iPod format requires Apple QuickTime 7.1 or later
  • Optional: Windows-compatible sound card, microphone and speakers (recommended)



Playback Requirements

  • Microsoft Windows XP or Windows Vista
  • 300 MHz processor
  • 64 MB of RAM



Pricing

Camtasia isn't the cheapest screencasting tool you'll find on the market, but in terms of the features you get it's significantly cheaper than the kind of money you'll be spending if you go for professional editing applications like Adobe Premiere or Apple Final Cut Pro, neither of which are specific to the needs of professional screencasting.

Camtasia Studio 5 costs $299.99

For an educational license the price drops to $179.00

If you are upgrading from a previous edition, you pay $149.00

I think not only that this is a very fair price point, but that this is also one of the few times, where I definitely feel that the few hundred dollars spent for Camtasia is money well spent. Techsmith gives you also the chance to find out for yourself with a fully functional thirty day trial.



Limitations

I don't have much to say in terms of the limitations or drawbacks to using Camtasia Studio 5, and have been very impressed with what I've seen in my testing of the software.

Many of the things that I might consider drawbacks will be seen by the vast majority of users as positive qualities. This is largely due to the fact that Camtasia Studio 5 manages to tread a fine line between extensive functionality and excellent usability. Beginners will find the experience a comfortable one, and yet there is still plenty of room for power users to push the application to its limits.

Personally, in my work as a professional screencaster, I use Final Cut Studio 2 as my weapon of choice. The reasons for this are several - for one thing Camtasia Studio still hasn't made it to the Mac OS, which I use almost exclusively. Thankfully, there are rumours that a Mac version of CS5 is on the way, and I would be very happy if this were the case.

Editing, transitions and call-outs have improved in Camtasia Studio 5, as have its audio recording features. When held up against Final Cut, Soundtrack Pro and Motion it doesn't compare, but given that these professional tools require extensive training, very deep pockets and significantly more long-winded workflow, it's really like comparing apples and oranges. It's also worth bearing in mind that these expensive tools won't add interactive flash components, such as the quizzes and call-outs Camtasia is capable of producing.

At $299 Camtasia Studio 5 sits in a different league, and at a different price point to the more basic screencasting applications, and this will be the make or break point for most buyers.

However, if you intend to create product demos, tutorials, information products or video marketing materials for yourself, this is a rather small investment considering the features that have been packed into Camtasia Studio 5.



Review Summary

Camtasia Studio 5 is a very nicely featured, all-in-one tool for creating fantastic looking screen recordings, and a whole lot more besides.

Here is an application that, with relative ease, will let you put together your own professional looking screencasts complete with audio recording, titles, transitions, zooming and panning and web optimization.

If you haven't used Camtasia before, there is an excellent amount of support both within the application and at the Techsmith website, with its range of video tutorials on getting the most out of the tool. There is some learning curve involved compared to simpler tools like Jing Project, but the difference in results are more than worth it.

For those considering the upgrade from previous versions, there is still much to entice you into parting with another $150, including a - for me - revolutionary feature that will automatically resize, and then zoom and pan into the important goings on of any screen recording. This alone is worth the price of admission and will save a lot of post-production time for those trying to optimize their videos for the small playback sizes of YouTube or iPod video.

In short Camtasia Studio 5 is matchless as an all-in-one tool for those looking to create professional looking video tutorials, product demonstrations and the kind of tech support that makes customers very happy.

To go beyond Camtasia's own capabilities you'll be looking at very expensive professional video editing tools like Final Cut Studio, a steep learning curve and a much lengthier production process.

Here at Master New Media, Robin and I have long placed Camtasia as our official screen recording tool of choice. With version 5 I have only more reasons to keep using it, while having a lot more fun, greater reliability, options and the only pro- engine to create screencasts worth of this name.

Highly recommended.



Additional Resources

If you'd like to learn more about Camtasia Studio 5, you might want to check out the following links:




Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and titled ""Screen Recording: Professional Screencasting Gets A Better Camera - Camtasia Studio 5 In-Depth Review""

 
 
 
Readers' Comments    
2011-06-11 07:31:01

raki

Hi,

That's the guide that I was looking for !

Thanks for the info



2007-12-12 06:05:46

www.ScreencastCentral.com

Robin

Great post - really exhaustive guide.

One thing your audience might like to hear is that Techsmith are giving away a fully functional Camtasia Studio 3:

http://download.techsmith.com/camtasiastudio/enu/312/camtasiaf.exe

Go to this promotion page, http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia/pcpls.asp , fill out the form and Techsmith will send you the software key to unlock the program.

And for Mac users:
http://camtasia.com/macdevelopment.asp

Regards

TomC



 
posted by Michael Pick on Monday, October 15 2007, updated on Friday, February 26 2010


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